Openers battle nerves at Springfest

Local musicians want to make most of opportunity to win over Coliseum crowd, bond over experiences



Kenny Ficklin, or Playroom Toons, played an original song that just hit 14,000 plays on Soundcloud for Springfest on Friday at Beasley Coliseum.

MAGGIE QUINLAN, Evergreen reporter

He had 20 minutes before he would open for T-Pain, and DJ James Salley couldn’t find his headphones.

Salley ran up the stairs to the Beasley Coliseum stage, checked the DJ controller and ran back down to alert Springfest’s organizer, SEB Director of Special Events Sarah Sehrt.

“They’re pretty f-cking important,” Salley said, and laughed.

Sehrt moved fast to call James Cathey, stage name MACFIE, another opener for the festival who hadn’t arrived yet.

Salley was slotted to play five minutes after the doors opened. He is a senior at WSU majoring in journalism and media production and DJs under the name Salleymane. Before Springfest, most of his experience came from performing at downtown club Etsi Bravo for crowds of fewer than 100 people.

Two weeks ago, Salley played his biggest show yet, opening for French DJ Dustycloud in Spokane along with Cathey. He said Springfest would be 30 times bigger than that show.

“My friend Will is outside and just said, ‘You’re gonna have a crowd dude,’ ” Salley said to fellow opener and local rapper Faddy Datty backstage a few moments after he realized his headphones were gone.

“Oh yeah, people are lined up around the building,” Peter Marshall, or Azera, Faddy Datty’s hype man, said. “One hundred eighty degrees lined up.”

When Playroom Toons arrived a moment later, he and Faddy Datty high-fived.

“Are you ready bro?” Faddy Datty said to Playroom.

“I’m ready, are you ready dog?” Playroom Toons, or Kenny Ficklin, said. Then he laughed. “Honestly, no I’m not ready. I’m scared.”

Cathey, the entertainment manager for Etsi Bravo and final opener to perform before 3OH!3, arrived a few minutes later. He brought headphones for Salley.

But Salley wouldn’t be done after his performance. He would DJ for Faddy Datty’s set. For Evan Parks, or Faddy Datty, soundcheck an hour before doors opened was his first experience performing with speakers of the coliseum’s scale.

Rapper Faddy Datty opens for 3OH!3 and T-Pain during the SEB Springfest Friday at Beasley Coliseum.

Without bodies to absorb sound, Beasley’s hollow shell magnified the volume. Standing six feet from the speakers in the empty expanse, bass hits felt like actual ocean waves.

“We’re standing on the bass,” Marshall said. “We’re on top of it, and it’s moving out.”

Parks said he could feel the music rumbling in his feet through the stage, but he could barely hear himself rapping.

“[The sound] is echoing around,” Parks said. “I could hear that bouncing off the seats.”

Beasley can seat upwards of 12,000 people, according to an article by WSU Athletics, and the theater configuration for Springfest blocks off about a quarter of the seats and opens up the floor to standing audience members. Although performing at Beasley was a new experience, Parks was familiar with the arena. He grew up in Pullman.

To his knowledge, Parks said, he was the first Pullman local to perform at Springfest. His father Craig Parks is associate vice provost at WSU and his mother Ann Parks is on the Pullman City Council.

Parks started making music in high school with David Ward, or Young Sinsei, a local drummer and producer now studying jazz performance at the University of Michigan. Parks works at Safeway to support himself, but his focus is on making music, including albums he calls Datty Packs.

He said this gig fell into his lap a month and a half ago. A friend of his on the SEB asked if he would perform.

“I didn’t even expect to be playing this,” Parks said. “Once it came into my path, that’s the only thing I’m focused on.”

But he wasn’t prepared for the wildness of the crowd after Salley and Ficklin warmed them up. The doors opened at 6 p.m., and 16 minutes later someone’s vomit covered a 3-foot radius in the standing space up front.

Salley’s journey to this amped audience started with learning piano and guitar as a kid. But it wasn’t until he became a DJ for WSU’s student-run radio station KZUU that he interacted with a DJ controller.

Salleymane opens for 3OH!3 and T-Pain at the 2019 SEB Springfest Friday night at Beasley Coliseum.

“Within the last year, I’m finally being able to make that sound,” Salley said. “Being able to take music that I’m influenced from and starting to be able to actually make it.”

But he said he wants to learn more, and his journalism major doesn’t feel like the right fit now. After he graduates in a couple of weeks, Salley will head to Shoreline, Washington to get another degree in audio engineering.

For Ficklin, songwriting got him into music. The apparel merchandising major in his fourth year at WSU said he started playing guitar, piano and drums in high school. He experimented with a loop pedal to repeat riffs. That led him to produce beats.

As a WSU student, he sang one of his original songs he produced during an opening act for Louis the Child’s WSU set in 2017.

“I figured out I’m really good at producing and playing these instruments, but I’m not a great singer,” Ficklin said. “So let’s make some EDM and get other people on my tracks.”

He performed several original, produced songs for Springfest.

“This just hit 14,000 plays on SoundCloud,” he said to the crowd. Immediately after he descended from the stage, Ficklin said he surprised himself with his stage presence.

He got down from the DJ controller several times to jump and lead the growing crowd. The audience swayed their arms and phone flashlights only two songs into his set.

Parks performed next, bringing two life-size cutouts of Barack and Michelle Obama on stage with him. Parks jumped offstage and ran along the railings to high-five concert goers. He also threw bundles with handmade Faddy Datty T-shirts and glow sticks into a crowd of waving arms.

He said he wanted to leave his mark physically. He also peeled off his shirt to reveal another underneath. He threw the sweaty top T-shirt into a screaming crowd.

“It’s liberating,” Parks said. “I want to live up there.”

Cathey performed last before 3OH!3 and he said his performance forced him to bring together everything he has learned as a DJ.

Parks said every opener’s job was to win the audience over. He said he knew it would be a challenge because the crowd wasn’t there for him. They were there for T-Pain.

“Literally the two questions I got asked the most are, ‘Are you gonna meet T-Pain?’ and ‘What are you gonna wear?’ ” Parks said.

One opener did meet the headliner, but by chance. Local artists shared a green room with SEB members and media down the hall from T-Pain and 3OH!3’s dressing rooms. Before T-Pain came on stage, SEB members and security blocked off the entire hallway from media and performers alike.

Salley, eating a sandwich backstage after his performance, looked through the open green room door and saw T-Pain and his crew descend toward the stage. Salley said he raised his hand and said, “T-Pain, ayy.” He said T-Pain lifted his arm and said, “Ayyy.”